October 24, 2011
Our son was born March 12th, 2009. He's a little over two and a half years old. Now, I am the wussiest wuss to ever wuss up the joint, so take everything I'm about to say with a grain of salt – but choosing to become a parent is the hardest thing I have ever done. By far. Everything else pales in comparison.
My feelings on this matter are complex. I made a graph. You know, for the children.
That one percent makes all the difference.
It's difficult to explain children to people who don't yet have children, because becoming a parent is an intensely personal experience. Every child is different. Every parent is different. Every culture has their own way of doing things. The experience is fundamentally different for every new parent in the world, yet children are the one universally shared thing that binds our giant collective chain letter of human beings together, regardless of nationality and language. How do you explain the unexplainable?
Well, having children changes you. Jonathan Coulton likens it to becoming a vampire.
I was having a conversation with a friend who had recently become a parent, and she reminded me of something I had forgotten about since my daughter was born. She was describing this what-have-I-done feeling – I just got everything perfect in my life, and then I went and messed it all up by having a baby. I don’t feel that way anymore, but the thought certainly crossed my mind a few times at the beginning. Eventually you just fall in love and forget about everything else, but it’s not a very comfortable transition. I compare the process to becoming a vampire, your old self dies in a sad and painful way, but then you come out the other side with immortality, super strength and a taste for human blood. At least that’s how it was for me. At any rate, it’s complicated.
Maybe tongue in cheek, but not that far from the truth, honestly. Your children, they ruin everything in the nicest way.
Before Henry was born, I remembered Scott Hanselman writing this odd blurb about being a parent:
You think you love you wife when you marry her. Then you have a baby and you realize you'd throw your
wife yourself under a bus to save your baby. You can't love something more.
Nuts to that, I thought. Hanselman's crazy. Well, obviously he doesn't love his wife as much as I love mine. Sniff. Babies, whatever, sure, they're super cute on calendars, just like puppies and kittens. Then I had a baby. And by God, he was right. I wouldn't just throw myself under a bus for my baby, I'd happily throw my wife under that bus too – without the slightest hesitation. What the hell just happened to me?
As an adult, you may think you've roughly mapped the continent of love and relationships. You've loved your parents, a few of your friends, eventually a significant other. You have some tentative cartography to work with from your explorations. You form ideas about what love is, its borders and boundaries. Then you have a child, look up to the sky, and suddenly understand that those bright dots in the sky are whole other galaxies.
You can't possibly know the enormity of the feelings you will have for your children. It is absolutely fucking terrifying.
When I am holding Henry and I tickle him, I can feel him laughing all the way to his toes. And I realize, my God, I had forgotten, I had completely forgotten how unbelievably, inexplicably wonderful it is that any of us exist at all. Here I am with this tiny, warm body so close to me, breathing so fast he can barely catch up, sharing his newfound joy of simply being alive with me. The sublime joy of this moment, and all the other milestones – the first smile, the first laugh, the first "dada" or "mama", the first kiss, the first time you hold hands. The highs are so incredibly high that you'll get vertigo and wonder if you can ever reach that feeling again. But you peak ever higher and higher, with dizzying regularity. Being a new parent is both terrifying and exhilarating, a constant rollercoaster of extreme highs and lows.
It's also a history lesson. The first four years of your life. Do you remember them? What's your earliest memory? It is fascinating watching your child claw their way up the developmental ladder from baby to toddler to child. All this stuff we take for granted, but your baby will painstakingly work their way through trial and error: eating, moving, walking, talking. Arms and legs, how the hell do they work? Turns out, we human beings are kind of amazing animals. There's no better way to understand just how amazing humans are than the front row seat a child gives you to observe it all unfold from scratch each and every day, from literal square zero. Children give the first four years of your life back to you.
I wasn't sure how to explain meeting new people to Henry, so I decided to just tell him we've met a new "friend" every time. Now, understand that this is not at all the way I view the world. I'm extremely wary of strangers, and of new people in general with their agendas and biases and opinions. I've been burned too many times. But Henry is open to every person he meets by default. Each new person is worth greeting, worth meeting as a new experience, as a fellow human being. Henry taught me, without even trying to, that I've been doing it all wrong. I realized that I'm afraid of other people, and it's only my own fear preventing me from opening up, even a little, to new people that I meet. I really should view every new person I meet as a potential friend. I'm not quite there yet; it's still a work in progress. But with Henry's help, I think I can. I had absolutely no idea my child would end up teaching me as much as I'm teaching him.
Having a child is a lot like running a marathon. An incredible challenge, but a worthwhile and transformative experience. It leaves you feeling like you truly accomplished something for all that effort. After all, you've created something kind of amazing: a person.
Bob: It gets a whole lot more complicated when you have kids.
Charlotte: It's scary.
Bob: The most terrifying day of your life is the day the first one is born.
Charlotte: Nobody ever tells you that.
Bob: Your life, as you know it... is gone. Never to return. But they learn how to walk, and they learn how to talk, and you want to be with them. And they turn out to be the most delightful people you will ever meet in your life.
It's scary and it's wonderful in equal measure. So why not have another baby? Or so we thought.
Turns out, we're having two babies. Both are girls, due in mid-February 2012.
I've been told several times that you should never be crazy enough to let the children outnumber you. I hope to ultimately win the War of the Lady Babies, but when it comes to children, I think all anyone can ever realistically hope for is a peaceful surrender.
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Posted by Jeff Atwood
Jeff, congratulations man! Maleah and I are having our first, a girl, in March and are so excited (and anxious)! The first year you had Henry, I remember every time I talked to you, you seemed less than excited about the whole experience. I know how you always cherished your "you" time, and I'm sure it wasn't easy learning to share (i.e. give up) that time with another human, but it's very refreshing to read this account of your seasoned take on parenthood ;). Looking forward to the twins' tweets -- do they have an account set up yet? heh
Economies of Scale do not apply when adding children to a family. By my reckoning, every 1 you add increases the workload by 100%. This was a hard lesson.
Thankfully, the reward was increased proportionately.
I had my twin girls 16 months ago, it was really hard entering the "father-experience" with two babies rather than one and I'm (you can include my wife) really tired! I'm just so tired, but incredibly thankful and inexplicably happy. Congrats Jeff, and welcome on-board.
You made my day.
Really really great essay. Thank you.
I will keep this in my "encouragement" file.
"I had completely forgotten how unbelievably, inexplicably wonderful it is that any of us exist at all."... Yes.. yes.. I have this feeling all the time when I'm with my son and we're doing the most mundane task which is the most fascinating thing to him.
Congratulations on the twins - looks like you've subscribed to an event there (OnParenthood) - get it?
First of all; I have nearly 6 year old identical twin girls. I figure they are God getting even with my husband for every dirty thought he ever had about some other man's identical twin daughters. Someone already mentioned it, but you and your wife should read Dr. Barbara Luke's book, "When You're Expecting Twins, Triplets or Quads." Nutrition is so different for twins; you have to get all of your weight on quickly, they'll be early or there won't be room left for food. I had my twins at 34 weeks and they were 5'6oz. Good luck to you both!
You thought one kid was terrifying? LOL!
I'm a father of identical twin girls who are 15 months old. You have *no idea* what you're signing up for. It's amazingly awesome, mind you -- but stunningly hard.
The best gift you can get for your wife is a membership to your local Mothers of Multiples group. There are *so many* unique things about raising twins, it really helps to have the support network.
Excellent post, Jeff - I think you're responsible for more than a few misty eyes out here. I'm the father of two boys, one has moved from Kansas City to California and I actually got to fly out and visit him last week. It's amazing how fast they grow up...everybody says that, but soon you'll realize it's true.
And to think I came here to read about the death of Microsoft Visual SourceSafe! :)
Awesome post that sums up the new parenting experience. Congrats on your twin girls, that's a double-blessing (coming from a mom of twins - you'll see, your first graphic truly applies x 2!). Enjoy the journey. As another parent of twins told me, the days are long but the years go by too fast!
Now, _that_ explains the horror part of this blog's title.
You are attempting TWO BRANCHES in parallel! you brave!
congratulations, and stock up on the red bull.
It's a really, really beautiful post, which I fully grasped only on the second read.
I loved this very moving post. Congratulations on the imminent arrival of twins in your life! I share your feelings: being a parent is the hardest thing I've ever done too. I will say that it does get easier, but then it gets richer and more complex too.
I was blessed with one birth child. When he was born I was on cloud 9 and climbing. Then came the horrible truth that his father had kidnapped him. The pain was unbearable, I never thought a heart could hurt so much. We were reunited through the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, within a year of my baptism, which in and of itself is a miracle! I also adopted another son when he was 5 days old...he truly was mine and I had such a great love for him, as well as for my firstborn. The first words out of my mouth when they placed him in my arms were "he's so beautiful" and I was definitely a gonner. It was instant love, with nothing comparable to equate it to, other than the love I had for my firstborn. My boys are 20 years apart, which speaks to the slow healing loosing a child brings. I have never once regretted my decision to adopt my son, and the love I have for him is equally as deep and abiding as the love I have for my birth son. Congratulations on the impending birth of your twins...you will know what heaven on earth feels like with three!
You summed up parenthood very, very well! The cliche I always liked was "It's the toughest job you'll ever love." My boys are teens now and every year has brought some new pain and some new joy.
Regarding Scott Hanselman's comment, I like this excerpt from Breakfast with Socrates:
"So paramount is this responsibility to feed and nurture the young lives the parents have created, it alters the value of their own. In life, children come first, relegating their parents to a poor second - which is why the flight attendant’s advice to parents to put on their own oxygen masks before those of their children feels so wrong and throws the heart into conflict with the head. Surely one tends to the children before the adults? A parent is one who in prioritising the life of the child will risk his or her own, and as soon as you start making sacrifices for your children, there's no bar on where it might end. How, as a parent, could you ever say you wouldn't give up your own life to save your child? Protecting the child's life is everything, which means the life of the parent ultimately counts for nothing.
[..]Without their parents creating them, children can't exist, and once existing, they depend on those parents to keep them in existence with food and water. In this respect, the life of the parent is indispensable to the life of the child. But precisely because parents are obliged to do anything for the sake of the younger life, even to the point of self-sacrifice, the value of their own lives flips over and they now become dispensable to the nth degree"
Congratulations! I know somewhat what you're getting into, the happiest day of my life was finding out that we'd tried for one and gotten two. It brings a lot of that first-baby excitement back because trust me it's about 4 times as hard as one baby, especially when you have an older one as well. Twins are a lot of work but a lot of joy as well, and they'll always have someone to play with.
Thanks for making my day, even if I'm 2 weeks late seeing this. I never really understood the word "miracle" until I witnessed the birth of my first child. Here's my belated Official Words of Parenting Advice:
Your kids will be fucked up in spite of your best efforts, and your kids will turn out okay in spite of your worst.
Beautifully written Jeff, and captures my experiences and emotions spot on. Twins are a rush, our boy / girl twins are 8 now, and it's been a fantastic experience. The first six months of twins are "hard", up until they're sleeping through the night, but 1) after that it's easier than a singleton imo; and 2) your experience with your first will help.
Again, congratulations and thanks for your post.
Before I read the other comments, having just read your article, I'd like to say, wow... thank you for a very, very nice article.. and the chart... quite a talent! :) Then, also, congratulations on becoming a father :) (Wishing you lots of patience). Having 2 little daughters myself I can only agree with all of what you have nicely written in this post... Kids are little monsters :)
We'll be joining you in chaos^2 in April. Screwed. Delightfully screwed. Can't wait!
Thank you for this wonderful post and for all the comments it has gathered. It made my heart warm and my coffee taste better. My second baby babbles in our big bed, chewing a toy. My eldest just wrote her letter to Santa. I am so happy I am a mom, although sleep is scarce, me-time is on my wish list and the Eldest just asked me if she can have a mobile phone for her 7th birthday, an i-pod for xmas and an i-pad for her sain patron's day. Now, it can't be easy parenting twins and a big brother but I just wanted to tell you that the second time around you get to enjoy your babies. As you've been there before, done that already, now you get to actually see and cherish what's happening to you. Just lavish your eldest, spoil him rotten and keep telling him he's the best big brother in the world. I'll keep my fingers crossed for you. God Bless!
Wow..I think this is superbly written and give nice advices to everyone who read this.Thanks a lot for sharing this lovely post.
our sonogram was "baby A" and "baby B"
19 years of happy happy joy joy. A readily made friend for life.
This site is really beautiful, I have done everything, to find out. Congratulations to the "Creator" of this site. Very pleasant.
Congratulations! The first year with twins is the toughest! once they hit about a year old, it will all settle down, and life will be manageable again. (not the same, just manageable) Good luck, and as you know, it's worth it!
Bah, you're graph was pretty hilarious. Everything else was pretty useless to me. I want to know what being a parent is like by simple experience. Don't expect me to feel the warmth from the coat you've put on...
Congrats! As a parent is completely agree with everything you said in this post. As of 12/8, we are now on our third child. I would love to see posts on how us programmers manage time (i.e., work, learning new tech, etc.) while enjoy parenthood.
My husband found your entry on parenthood. This is awesome and so well said. I usually say that I work 99% of the time for that 1% of pure parental pleasure. So I totally understand that "1%".
Congratulations on your coming twins. I'm due with baby #2 in April '12. Can't believe we're doing it again!
"That one percent makes all the difference." - correction: the percentage it's actually two 51-49. Anyway, congratulations and good luck!
Congrats, Jeff! And as they age, it only gets worse/better!
Thank you for writing this. My wife is trying to convince me that it's time to have a baby and as a classic engineer I am trying to weigh the pros and cons of the situation. This post helps me understand that there are lots of pros that I just can't see right now.
Congratulations! Now I am not a parent, but a good friend and colleague of mine has four children and is adopting two more! I asked him how he plans to do it being outnumbered like that.
His response: "Well once you have more than two, it's all about the same. You just have a clan of children since there's nothing you can do about them outnumbering you."
FANTASTIC post! thank you! YOU ROCK!
>>> I've been told several times that you should never be crazy enough to let the children outnumber you.
You forget this has been the natural state for humanity for most of our existence. So what does that say?
A friend of mine who is a parent observed the football analogy:
One child, you have double coverage.
Two children, you switch to man-to-man
Three+ children, you have to use zone coverage.
It does help a bit when one of them gets old enough to be somewhat responsible and help, but that's a ways away for you.
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